Nature's Providence and the End of Smug
The harmony of natural law . . . reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. --Albert Einstein.
We have big heads. Large crania. These house big brains and also, it must be said, unlimited smug. Smug of such abundance that we tacitly promote ourselves as the greatest thing on two legs, the greatest species that ever ruminated on Earth. We love ourselves. We worship human intelligence and human creativity. Look at the towering edifices we construct, the extensive ideologies we build and champion, the vast political movements we support, the burgeoning corporations we bow to and serve, and the enormous armies we wield to protect ourselves. We are a truly massive species. We stomp around and push aside everything in our smug way. Our urge to conquer is devastating. We try to own all and everything -- islands, mountains, coastal waters, rivers, genes, crops, medicines. We even went all the way to the moon and stuck a flag in it in order to smugly suggest ownership. One day the entire Universe will be alerted to our smug presence. In fact, we have already started naming distant stars after ourselves.
Observe also the red carpets we roll out for our most cherished movie stars and the millions of dollars we lavish on them to promote inane products. Behold too the statues we fashion of our most esteemed cultural icons. To be sure, sometimes a large statue is simply not enough to embody such veneration. Thus we find entire mountains reshaped into the seemingly noble visages of American presidents. This is smug carved large and wide.
We even invented god in our smug image. We invariably call god "he." Some may say this is simply convenience. But it is more than that. Talk of god being "he" betrays the fact that we view god as having similar qualities to man. After all, man is so cool and so powerful and so wise (Homo sapiens means wise man) that any creative intelligence lying at the heart of reality must be man-like in some way.
And so it is that we adore and elevate ourselves. We are the ones. Indeed, it appears we have full dominion over the Earth and all that goes with it. The biosphere is under our smug control. Nature works at our smug behest. How, pray, did the biosphere work on its own without us for billions of years? Doesn’t matter! Because we are here now and we will manage the globe as we see fit. Nature will be co-opted to perform at our smug whim.
The land developer who gives the final nod of approval for a rainforest to be smashed asunder gloats with smug at the sheer power he wields. Even if he is informed that millions of exquisite speciated expressions of natural organismic intelligence will be destroyed in the developmental process, this only gives him pause for more smug. We can do whatever we like. We run the biospherical show. The smug is here. The smug has seized power and control.
A rich business man, after years of hard work, speeds off in his brand new sleek flash Porsche. His face is a picture of smug. He has earned the right to radiate smug. He put the hours in, he took the risks, he made his own lucky breaks -- his smug place at the wheel of a gleaming new Porsche has been hard won. Smug is ours to harbour and emit.
Smug implies a wrong relationship with Nature
Smug cannot exist in the context of the real world. Consider this: the Universe is made of energy. Everywhere this energy is flowing freely and providentially. Suns, for instance, radiate high grade energy in every direction for billions of years. That is what they do. Suns do not horde energy or hold back -- rather they serve the unconditional free flow of energy that defines the way Nature works. Such natural providence means that everything under the sun is freely given. Since the biosphere is plugged into the sun this means that the biosphere is being freely provided with 24/7 high grade life-supporting energy. The same applies to the evolution of life. The life potential that has unfolded over the last 3.5 billion years has been freely given. The potential for DNA to complexify, the fact that proteins can fold and self-organise themselves into exquisite arrangements of bio-logic, the fact that cells can thrive and self-repair, the fact that life can find a biological way to solve all manner of problems -- all these amazing potentials are likewise given free by Nature.
In other words then, organic life on Earth is an unfolding potential that, like an axiom, is given. To reiterate: everything is given, everything stems from Nature’s providence. This is especially the case with us. We are given life and we are given consciousness. Thus, we literally find ourselves alive and mindful. We did not engineer the human organism. We did not design the human cortex. Nor did we make the various potentials of the human cortex. Nature provided everything. And here’s the rub -- for we do not accord intelligence or acumen or skill to Nature. Worse, we don’t even concede that we are surfing on a wave of natural providence.
Let me further clarify why our smugness is unfounded. Take a child genius pianist. Or an acclaimed painter. Regardless of whether they are smug or not, we may marvel at their talent. But where did such talent come from? Obviously the child musical prodigy has a cortex blessed with unusual musical processing power whilst the acclaimed painter is blessed with artistic talent. In other words, each has been provided, through genetic means, with an enhanced prowess of some kind. Talented people do not make their talents, rather they inherit them. And if they spend time honing their talents this is because they have inherited that ability too.
The same holds true of the business entrepreneur with his swanky new Porsche. If he made his fortune through business acumen this is only because he has been blessed with a brain/mind able to cogitate in a certain way. Maybe he has inherited a slightly more cunning mode of perception. The point is that men do not fashion their own organism and the various potentials associated with those organisms. Men find themselves with certain abilities and potentials. And even if we work hard to explore any given potential, this is only because we have also been given the ability to do this as well! What about a genius like Einstein? Ditto as before. Einstein was born with the potential for intellectual genius. Like the rest of us, as Einstein went through life he explored the potential of his own mind, worked out what he was good at, what he a had a talent for, and thereby explored that potential granted him by Nature. We cannot escape from Nature’s providence -- everything is given to us.
So if we grant that all the great things in life stem, ultimately, from Nature’s providence, then what the hell are we so smug about? We didn’t make the human race. We did not engineer the human brain/mind complex. We didn’t construct ecosystems or the essential services that they provide. We don’t make fresh air or fresh water or fresh sunlight. We didn’t make space and time. We receive everything -- life, conscious awareness, resources. Even the ability to give and receive love is granted to us. Everything is provided by Nature and we take it from there. And if we make something good of our lives then our ability to do so is likewise granted to us. If all this is humbly acknowledged it is hard to be smug about anything we do.
When we start pondering these truths we place ourselves in a right relationship with the rest of Nature. For we sense the larger whole that defines us and supports us. And once we sense the significance of the larger whole and see it as being the smart provider of all that we are, then we may start to behave in a more humble and more eco-friendly manner. Thus, until we acknowledge the all pervasive flow of natural providence in which we are embedded and admit that Nature is both smart and generous in terms of its creative prowess, then we will have a wrong relationship with the larger system that sustains our existence. The days of smug are numbered. The time has come to earnestly re-evaluate our place in the overall scheme of Nature.
Simon G. Powell is the author of The Psilocybin Solution and Darwin's Unfinished Business
Image by Jared Smith, courtesy of Creative Commons license.